Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ferguson Part One: On Rioting.

On Rioting.

So, before I dive into this let’s stipulate that white people riot all the time, for almost any reason: pumpkins, football, basketball, almost any sporting event.
Riot in NH over a pumpkin fest
A few years back a large group of white students in Pennsylvania rioted because a football coach, who had turned a blind eye to child molestation, was fired. I live near East Lansing, there is a annual riot called Cedar Fest that goes on like clockwork. There is an unofficial motto among the students during football season “if we lose we riot, if we win, we riot”. The rioting here is so normal that local furniture outlets have sales on couches and mattresses because they know students are going to burn their own… (true story). But google that on your own time, and then re-think about how we view the “rioters” in Ferguson (who aren't angry over a sporting event, or produce, but over the loss of life)

Ok, with that preamble out of the way let’s dive into this idea that the riots are counterproductive and that violence is not the answer.  So first for something to be counter-productive there has to first be some productive activity going on. By all reports the people of Ferguson have had long standing issues with their police department and its treatment of black citizens, but those problems were never addressed, rather they were ignored and allowed to fester like an open wound.
It wasn't until after the first riots occurred that state, local and federal agencies got involved with the community. It wasn't until the community,  fed up with years of police malfeasance coupled with inaction from their local and state representatives rose up in rebellion, it wasn't until the smoke began to rise and buildings began to burn that they started to see the government scramble to hear their cries and offer them relief. And even then it took gross multiple violations of the fourth estate by the police, to really bring the spotlight on Ferguson.

So when you sit smugly behind your television set and ask “why they are rioting”, I have a better question. Why aren't we all rioting? If years of begging and pleading led to no action, and one week of riots lead to DOJ investigations, 40 FBI agents scouring the area & renewed efforts from the mayor and governor to look at racial profiling why aren't we all using the template that Ferguson provided? It is abundantly clear that when minorities engage in peaceful protest after police malfeasance, when minorities march and sing and link hands, that those actions by themselves are ignored. The system has no impetus to act. The system can ignore hand holding and marching; those actions are: non-threatening, quaint and dated and thus provide no incentive to the system to act. It is not in the interest of the system to disturb the status quo.

There have been (at least) five high profile cases in the last 5 months where unarmed black men were killed by police officers. Most of us only know about Ferguson and Mike Brown, the names of the others are already starting to fade into Sean Bell like obscurity. They are quietly being added to the list of the slain and forgotten. Ferguson however, has refused to go quietly into the night, in part because the people, through their direct action in the form of an uprising FORCED the system to engage, they made it so that it was in the best interest of the local, state and federal governments to do so. The lesson learned, it’s hard to ignore your downtown being razed. 

But still, some will gnash their teeth, rend their garments and say "violence isn't the answer". The idea that "violence isn't the answer" seems more like a tired cliche, than an actual argument backed up by facts and examples. If violence isn't the answer why does Cliven Bundy still have his ranch? If violence isn't the answer why is every NeoCon everywhere always itching to go to war, if violence isn't the answer why are we in: Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, etc?  If violence isn't the answer then why are police departments equipped better than some infantry units?

So while we may argue about the morality of rioting, it is quite hard to argue about the results of rioting. The fact that Michael Brown’s name is known from Portland to Palestine, while Darren Hunt’s name rarely rings a bell is part of the problem. When you back a community into a corner, ignore their cries but then move quickly once the destruction begins you are telling that community that you only respect force, that you only respect flame, that you only respect fire. So don’t be surprised when you see the torches being lit.